© Edge Grove School

A Prize Catch

18th May 2018

Whether it’s a scholarship or an exhibition, a principal’s award or a bursary, opportunities at 11+ can be a minefield for parents as they often mean different things at different independent schools. Ben Evans, Head of Edge Grove, a local day and boarding co-ed prep school, gives us the low-down…

Essentially, a scholarship is an award, often attracting a fee remission of around 10%, that reflects a child’s exceptional academic ability or talent in sport, art, music, drama, technology or, indeed, in a combination of these (known as an all-rounder scholarship). They are very much limited in numbers and there is often only one (possibly two) from each category per school available, so they should be treated as something quite special, not an expectation.

The truth is, with any award comes certain responsibilities for the pupil as it can be removed as quickly as it was granted. Children with scholarships will be expected to work hard, display excellent behaviours for learning and conduct and always put their school commitments first. If there is a match, a concert or extra art session, these take precedence over outside club matches or other activities.

The application process is usually strictly between the parents and the senior school to which they are applying. Prep or primary schools’ involvement is limited to writing references for senior schools, and in the case of independent prep schools, preparing pupils for the scholarship assessment.

Schools should not be selecting pupils for scholarships or suggesting suitable candidates to senior schools. However, they should advise parents carefully regarding a child’s suitability for a scholarship (is it a realistic aim?) and if a child has exceptional talent they may like to speak to senior schools about the possibility of a scholarship in their chosen area.

Parents must be prepared for a very competitive process (with a certain degree of stress on all sides) and the inevitable disappointment that failure to secure a scholarship will bring. Ask yourself first, is your 10- or 11-year-old emotionally resilient enough to cope with this at such a young age? It is worth remembering that even a bright child may not be successful if they are competing in a very strong field. Likewise, a child who plays Grade 7 bassoon at 12-years-old may also be unsuccessful if they are competing against another child who happens to be Grade 8. It all depends on the year and field of candidates that have applied at that time.
If your child is a true scholarship candidate, the signs will be obvious, certainly from year five onwards. Is their non-verbal reasoning score (NVR) above 130? Do they play two instruments well and at least one to Grade 5 level? Are they playing sport at a high club/county level or are they likely to in the near future? Do they enjoy art and drama and participate in activities outside school and, again, to a high level? Ask yourself these kinds of questions and if it isn’t obvious or clear-cut, then it’s unlikely that they are suitable to be put forward for a scholarship.

Schools will be more than happy to advise – and do listen to them if they offer a view, because no school will want a pupil to be put through something that will end in distress for the child. Nor will they want obvious talent and potential to be ignored or to go under-developed. Children can, of course, be late developers but there will still be signs of scholarship potential from a young age and all good schools will have spotted these.

The scholarship process has become increasingly competitive due to the large number of applicants per school in this area, the desire of more and more parents to have their children’s abilities recognised and the need for parents to ensure senior school fees are slightly more affordable; furthermore, the increasing financial exigencies on schools have, in some cases, resulted in fewer scholarships being offered. The exact number and type of scholarships available (and the process for applying) varies from school to school and it is vital to speak to the admissions coordinator about their exact requirements and timings.

The most important thing parents can do is to think of their child’s wellbeing rather than glory hunting. Consider carefully, with advice from the school, your child’s suitability for a scholarship and the effect any disappointment may have on them. Only if you are absolutely certain they have the required academic ability or specific musical, sporting or artistic talent should you put them through what will inevitably be a long and possibly stressful process.

One thing all parents should avoid doing is paying for private tuition just to secure a scholarship. The truth is, this is completely unnecessary and pointless – because if you think your child requires a tutor to secure a scholarship, they are definitely not at scholarship standard. If they should, by a miracle, be given a scholarship due to the private tutoring they have received, consider the effect that this will have on them when they join the school. They will feel academically inferior and will be at risk of having their award removed once it becomes clear that they are struggling.

However, there is preparation that can and should be done both at school and at home in order to help secure a scholarship. For academic scholarships, there will be past papers that should be used to ensure children are familiar with the rubric and content of the exams and which teachers should go through carefully with the children to develop their exam technique and syllabus understanding. Likewise, an art scholarship portfolio will need to be compiled (over one or two years) to demonstrate the child’s ability using a variety of medium and techniques. This will need to be carefully supported by the school.

Musically, children will need to be of a high standard, which requires much practice, dedication and commitment. All scholarship candidates will be required to sit at least one interview, often more, and this will require a certain amount of practice and developing. Children should be able to talk with enthusiasm and passion about their interests and scholarship subject. If a child is unable to do this, or is over coached/tutored with standard or scripted responses, the senior schools will spot the signs instantly.

It is also important not to treat the scholarship subject list like a takeaway menu. Greater success is not achieved by simply applying for a larger number of scholarships. Listen to advice from your school and if you have a child who is both academically able and also talented in music, art and sport, consider applying for an all-rounder scholarship. Schools are now often only awarding one scholarship with increasingly reduced fee remissions attached – do ask and be very clear from the outset.

If your child is successful in securing a scholarship, all schools will expect scholars to be totally committed to school, be an example to others, work consistently to their full potential and be involved in all aspects of school life, not just their scholarship area. They will, of course, have to continue to progress within their specialism – be it achieving Grade 8 on their instrument or excelling in the first XV and first XI cricket team. Any lack of effort or commitment will be noticed and pupils will be at risk of losing their scholarship title (and fee remission) if they do not take their responsibility seriously. Parents can offer great support by ensuring their children understand the honour of a scholarship award and the opportunity it will give them, at school and in the future.

The risk of failure is something that must be made very clear to the child at the outset. It is very competitive process with large numbers of applications and only a few awards. If children understand this and also that they can only do their very best, this will help to lessen the inevitable feelings of disappointment should things not go to plan. Parents should play down the preparation and not allow their feelings of anxiety (or competitiveness) to come across to the children. This is easily done unintentionally when you want the best results for your child, but it can add to children’s feelings of disappointment in having also let down their parents if the award is not given.

Once the results are out… life does go on and parents should treat it as a positive experience, even if unsuccessful. Treat your child to something special as a reward for their hard work and efforts, look forward to things that will be happening at school and move on. Children are resilient and lead busy lives; they will soon forget or deal with their disappointment and will continue to enjoy full and exciting days at school as usual.

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